The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself.
All the elements of life are in constant flight from us, with darkness intermingled, the vision and the eclipse; we look and hasten, reaching out our hands to clutch; every happening is a bend in the road…and suddenly we have grown old.
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, p231
The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances. -Agatha Christie
Happy birthday, Agatha Christie! :)
A man overboard!
What matters it? The vessel does not halt. The wind blows. That sombre ship has a path which it is forced to pursue. It passes on.
The man disappears, then reappears; he plunges, he rises again to the surface; he calls, he stretches out his arms; he is not heard. The vessel, trembling under the hurricane, is wholly absorbed in its own workings; the passengers and sailors do not even see the drowning man; his miserable head is but a speck amid the immensity of the waves. He gives vent to desperate cries from out of the depths. What a spectre is that retreating sail! He gazes and gazes at it frantically. It retreats, it grows dim, it diminishes in size. He was there but just now, he was one of the crew, he went and came along the deck with the rest, he had his part of breath and of sunlight, he was a living man. Now, what has taken place? He has slipped, he has fallen; all is at an end.
He is in the tremendous sea. Under foot he has nothing but what flees and crumbles. The billows, torn and lashed by the wind, encompass him hideously; the tossings of the abyss bear him away; all the tongues of water dash over his head; a populace of waves spits upon him; confused openings half devour him; every time that he sinks, he catches glimpses of precipices filled with night; frightful and unknown vegetations seize him, knot about his feet, draw him to them; he is conscious that he is becoming an abyss, that he forms part of the foam; the waves toss him from one to another; he drinks in the bitterness; the cowardly ocean attacks him furiously, to drown him; the enormity plays with his agony. It seems as though all that water were hate.
Nevertheless, he struggles.
He tries to defend himself; he tries to sustain himself; he makes an effort; he swims. He, his petty strength all exhausted instantly, combats the inexhaustible.
Where, then, is the ship? Yonder. Barely visible in the pale shadows of the horizon.
The wind blows in gusts; all the foam overwhelms him. He raises his eyes and beholds only the lividness of the clouds. He witnesses, amid his death-pangs, the immense madness of the sea. He is tortured by this madness; he hears noises strange to man, which seem to come from beyond the limits of the earth, and from one knows not what frightful region beyond.
There are birds in the clouds, just as there are angels above human distresses; but what can they do for him? They sing and fly and float, and he, he rattles in the death agony.
He feels himself buried in those two infinities, the ocean and the sky, at one and the same time: the one is a tomb; the other is a shroud.
Night descends; he has been swimming for hours; his strength is exhausted; that ship, that distant thing in which there were men, has vanished; he is alone in the formidable twilight gulf; he sinks, he stiffens himself, he twists himself; he feels under him the monstrous billows of the invisible; he shouts.
There are no more men. Where is God?
He shouts. Help! Help! He still shouts on.
Nothing on the horizon; nothing in heaven.
He implores the expanse, the waves, the seaweed, the reef; they are deaf. He beseeches the tempest; the imperturbable tempest obeys only the infinite.
Around him darkness, fog, solitude, the stormy and nonsentient tumult, the undefined curling of those wild waters. In him horror and fatigue. Beneath him the depths. Not a point of support. He thinks of the gloomy adventures of the corpse in the limitless shadow. The bottomless cold paralyzes him. His hands contract convulsively; they close, and grasp nothingness. Winds, clouds, whirlwinds, gusts, useless stars! What is to be done? The desperate man gives up; he is weary, he chooses the alternative of death; he resists not; he lets himself go; he abandons his grip; and then he tosses forevermore in the lugubrious dreary depths of engulfment.
Oh, implacable march of human societies! Oh, losses of men and of souls on the way! Ocean into which falls all that the law lets slip! Disastrous absence of help! Oh, moral death!
The sea is the inexorable social night into which the penal laws fling their condemned. The sea is the immensity of wretchedness.
The soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse. Who shall resuscitate it?
I have reached the turning point. After much agonizing, Valjean stole the silver.
The next morning Mme Magloire has a fit. Nobody characterizes quite like Victor Hugo. I can almost see them in the garden, two completely different people in the same situation reacting so oppositely: “With the zeal of an elderly watchdog Mme Magloire ran into the oratory, peered into the alcove and came running back to her master [the bishop], who was now bending sadly over a cochlearia [a flower] that had been damaged by the basket when it fell.” As much as I want to be like the bishop, I know I’m actually like Mme Magloire. She freaks out, rushing around, frantically searching for the missing silver, so swept up in the moment that she doesn’t stop to think about whether or not it actually matters in the big picture of life. The bishop is too busy being saddened over the squashed flower than the silver, inspecting the plant to see if its bloom will survive, completely serene though sorrowful, aware of his environment, thinking of even the little things, realizing that a piece of creation is more important than some expensive silverware. Yep, I’m definitely Mme Magloire and not the bishop, unfortunately.
Valjean is dragged back to the bishop’s house by the police, and after the bishop dismisses the police and gives Valjean the silver candlesticks (the dude already stole the forks and spoons and the bishop gives him the silver candlesticks?!) and says to Valjean: “Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.” Valjean is confused, not remembering the promise, probably because he never made the promise in the first place. Then the bishop adds: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” This part is just so good and so beautiful and so much something that should happen in real life but it doesn’t and it’s tragic that it doesn’t.
(Page 70 of 1232)
I wish I could be like the bishop. I’m like his polar opposite. Yikes. I love him, though. But I think I love G- more. His last speech about everything he has done in life just took my breath away. I was proud of the bishop for visiting the “Citizen.” I mean, the bishop lost everything from his old life because of the people G- represent. I could’ve never done that.
The bishop visits a poor village in the midst of their occupation by bandits. The bishop returns unharmed, and he says “We must never fear robbers or murderers. They are dangers from outside, small dangers. It is ourselves we have to fear. Prejudice is the real robber, and vice the real murderer. Why should we be troubled by a threat to our person or our pocket?” (The Bishop, Les Mis, my emphasis added)
This past spring, I spent much of my time thinking about things like this. We all have a breaking point. Yes, we can point our fingers at the Nazis, Abu Ghraib, murderers, and even the every day gossiping backstabbers. But those same people – Nazis, soldiers at Abu Ghraib, murderers, and gossips – probably did or do the same things. What separates them and us? Not much.
In each and every one of us, there is something that can commit the same atrocities. There is something that can snap in an instant. How much will it take to turn angels into demons? How far would we go? After all, we never truly know ourselves. Shouldn’t we be much more concerned with this than anything else…?
What do you think?